IKEA Solar Tents: A Revolution in Refugee Support Systems?

ikeasolarshelterBy Jonathan Fredrickson

In 2009, an ambitious undertaking began under the auspices of the IKEA Foundation, Refugee Housing Unit, and the UNHCR. Looking back to the historic crisis that unfolded in the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, these organizations realized that new methods and tools were required for managing the fall-out during large-scale disasters.[1] The results of this partnership were finally unveiled during Fall 2013 in the form of the IKEA Solar Tent. This tent was modelled around the motto, “Building Back Better”, which was the prevailing belief, in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, that humanitarian aid should be sustainable and improve the lives of the refugees as much as possible.[2]

            Originally deployed to Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Syrian refugee camps as part of a trial run, these tents are a large improvement on the typical shelters given out by the UN in the event of refugee disasters. IKEA’s shelters have an average lifespan of three years, while current canvas tents supplied to refugees deteriorate within a few months.[3] Utilizing a steel frame and plastic siding that reflects the minimalist design philosophy of IKEA products, the shelter offers more insulation and privacy. Measuring at 188 square feet, these shelters are constructible in under four hours and can house up to five people with ease.[4] Furthermore, the addition of flat-packed solar arrays adds stability that allows the refugees a measure of comfort in the evening. The presence of built-in USB ports allow for reading, lighting or cooking after sunset. [5]

            Despite the pros of this shelter, the only drawback currently is its price. As it stands, the cost for producing one of these amounts to $7,500 USD. There is hope that the mass-production and generation of a market for these shelters could eventually lower the price to around $1,000 USD.[6] Yet, despite the challenges, this cooperation between the public and private sector allows for the free exchange of ideas and the acquisition of resources typically unavailable to small-scale NGOs.[7]

            The tent is still a prototype and the user responses from refugees in Ethiopia, Iraq and Syria will have an effect on the final product design. It is unclear when these shelters will be released to the public, but it is easy to see that this successful collaboration is the first of many to come.


[1] Smedley, Tim. “How IKEA’s Partnership with the UN is Helping Child Refugees.” Theguardian.com Guardian News and Media, 30 July 2013. Web. 18 March 2014

[2] IKEA Foundation. “Designing a Better Home for Refugee Children| IKEA Foundation.”IKEA Foundation. IKEA, Web. 18 March 2014

[3] Williams, Olivia. “IKEA develops flat pack refugee camps designed to replace tented cities in disaster zones.”Daily Mail, 27 June 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2349480/IKEA-develops-flat-pack-REFUGEE-CAMPS-designed-replace-tented-cities-disaster-zones.html. Accessed 18 March 2014.

[4]Humble Homes. “IKEA’s Flat Packed Solar-Powered Housing Shelter.” Humble Homes. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

[5] Solar Reviews. “Ikea Shipping Flat-Packed Solar-Powered Shelters to Refugees.” Solar Reviews. SolarReviews.com. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

[6]  Pao, Maureen. “New kind of IKEA hack: flat-packs head to refugee camps.” National Public Radio,  2 July 2013.http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/06/27/196356373/new-kind-of-ikea-hack-flat-packs-head-to-refugee-camps. Accessed 18 March 2014.

[7] Smedley, Tim. “How IKEA’s Partnership with the UN is Helping Child Refugees.” Theguardian.com Guardian News and Media, 30 July 2013. Web. 18 March 2014

Jonathan Fredrickson is a TIDES Intern at the Center for Technology & National Security Policy.

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About startides

TIDES Research Assistant Intern
This entry was posted in Building Partner Capacity, Humanitarian Assistance/ Disaster Response, Shelter, Stability & Reconstruction and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to IKEA Solar Tents: A Revolution in Refugee Support Systems?

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